Your water’s poisoned? Tellya what I’m gonna do…


City leaders and a group of organizers here have been fighting state efforts to take over our city’s water system for several years. City of Asheville v State of North Carolina, et al. goes before the state Supreme Court next month. The originator of the bill (an ALEC board member before he lost his state House seat) insisted transferring control to a regional authority was not the first step towards privatization. You know, we just didn’t believe him. The water situation in Flint, Michigan is sure to come up in oral arguments on May 17.

Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-WI) of Milwaukee is the Ranking Member of the Monetary Policy and Trade Subcommittee that oversees U.S. relations with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. She is not too keen on water privatization either. Privatization opponents in Wisconsin recently fought off an effort led by Aqua America Inc. to privatize water there:

The legislation would legalize purchases of water utilities by out-of-state corporations and change existing law to make public referendums on such purchases optional instead of mandatory.

Moore is not happy about the International Finance Corporation, a branch of the World Bank, promoting water privatization and profiting from it. She wrote a letter to Dr. Jim Young Kim, President of the World Bank Group:

The letter, addressed to World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, describes the failure of a World Bank-backed water privatization project in Manila, Philippines—the “success story” the IFC uses in marketing around the world—as the foundation of her concern. In Manila, the IFC advised the government to contract with two private corporations to manage the city’s water system, which it did in 1997 in a concession deal that favored one corporation, Manila Water Company, with less debt and better infrastructure. The IFC subsequently took part ownership in MWC only.

Since taking over, MWC has raised rates nearly 850 percent, and has even brought the Manila regulator—and the Philippines Department of Finance—into arbitration in an attempt to hike the cost of water even higher.

As part owner of MWC, the IFC is now in direct opposition to the government’s efforts to keep water affordable for its people. And while the IFC has stood by MWC, it has made $43 million from its initial investment.

In a statement issued with the letter, Moore said:

Water access is a fundamental human right no matter where you live. Dr. Kim and his team have the responsibility to put the World Bank’s mission — alleviating global poverty — above the pursuit of profits. This institution must take that responsibility much more seriously, especially when it comes to water, or it will fail the very people it is supposed to be serving.

“By shedding light on the conflict of interest inherent in the World Bank’s investment and advisory services related to water, it is time that this vital financial institution stop funding and promoting corporate control of water pending an extensive external evaluation of IFC conflicts of interest as well as congressional hearings.

In an emailed statement, Moore connected the issue to U.S. water issues:

“Yes, we’ve just now started shedding light on this local and national issue in the United States, but there are global implications to think about as well,” Moore added, pointing to the World Bank’s investments in private water companies. “It has become clear that there are those in positions of great power who are all too willing to prioritize profits over public safety.”

The people of Flint would agree. As I’ve said for years, we are dealing with the kind of people who would sell you the air you breathe if they could control how it gets to your nose. And if you cannot afford to buy their air, well, you should have worked harder, planned better, and saved more.

How long will these (below) remain elaborate pranks?

Canadian start-up sells bottled air to China, says sales boom
$115 bottles of British air sold to Chinese buyers

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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